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The School of UnLearning: Skin

Routine Reset

Taking self-hate out of skincare

By Sage Adams

I think somewhere along the way I got things really backwards. At some point I decided that self-care meant scrutiny and solutions, that it meant AHA (alpha hydroxy acids), BHA (beta hydroxy acids), and retinol. Long nights of standing in front of my mirror mapping every indentation and every imperfection, layering products, picking, squeezing, crying. I decided that after a bath bomb and facial night that I should be renewed, healed, and beautiful. More productive, more ready for the rise and grind. I had removed the self and care from this practice, obliterating the meaning of those words.

And I wasn't alone.

We have handed ourselves over to corporations on a platter, a faithful set of well-moisturized, self-hating consumers, agents of the expectations set by YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. But, the reality is that self-care should make you feel good and that's about it.

Turns out the less I mess with my skin, the better I feel. And the better I feel, the better I look.

I can't remember the day I watched my first online skincare routine. I can't remember the first day I bought products online without trying them first. Products I couldn't really afford, full of ingredients I couldn't pronounce and hadn't read about.

I do remember the day I decided to stop participating in the instant skin culture. It was the day I stopped expecting to use a product and wake up without acne or hyperpigmentation.

My skin has always represented my lack of control. Being Black means that people see you before they know you. So many interactions start with unspoken stereotypes, microagressions, and other assumptions swirling in their heads before I even speak. And society's idealized beauty has centered on clear, white skin - solutions, corporations, an entire industry skewed to otherize and "fix" invented problems.

Only by unlearning the quick solution, the moralizing my body as good or bad, the viewing my skin as a problem was I able to start the journey of loving my skin just the way it is. Getting to this point has hurt me - scarred me, even - but I can't hate myself into love.

Artist Sage Adams

I don't think my skin is the problem anymore - it's how I treat myself. It's how society tells me that acne and imperfections drive down my value as a human being. It's leaving too much room for doubt and fear and not enough room for reflection, retention, and change. I have decided to learn to love - and ignore the hype.

It's time to teach the next online generation that acne doesn't end in high school, that everyone's skin is unique and that these quick fixes are being sold to solve non-problems.

No matter how many people online tell me to wash my face with this one weird trick, get a snail slime facial, or a chemical peel - I will be doing me. I'll drink my water and be kind to myself, wear sunscreen, and not cover up in makeup on days I don't really feel like it. I'll be washing my makeup brushes after every use. But I will be doing me.


I'm a grown person with acne. That is okay. I will live.

About the Author

Sage Adams (@sageaflocka) is a multi-media artist and curator from Brooklyn, NY. They were creative director for SZA's Grammy-nominated 2017 album "Ctrl" and co-founded the BIPOC grant program Art Hoe Collective. View their art on IG @sage_art_stuff.

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